RogerBW's Blog

Barely Lethal 30 April 2019

2015 action comedy, dir. Kyle Newman, Hailee Steinfeld, Dove Cameron: IMDb / allmovie. Number 83 grew up in a secret government training school for assassins, with no emotional connection to anyone. But when she's left behind on a mission, she decides to find what she's never had: a normal childhood. Pity that childhood ideal is built on 1990s high school comedies…

Which almost works, but not quite. It's fine that 83, or Megan as she becomes known, is a fish out of water running on incorrect social understanding; but she doesn't follow all the rules of 1990s high school comedies either, in particular when it comes to choosing which boy to crush on.

On the other hand it's a great deal of fun. I thought things would slow down when the early training montages and action sequences shifted into the high school setting, but the pace stays fast and the basic establishing scenes are got out of the way quickly so that we can move on to the good stuff.

The plot arc is predictable enough: of course Megan will make friends, and will end up using, and sharing, her lethal skills in order to save them.

Stabbing people is fun. Are there going to be more people for me to stab?

But the characters work surprisingly well; most of the adults are shown, in various ways, as being basically sympathetic to the children, remembering what it was like to be young themselves, but still out of touch in ways that they can't quite manage to fix, and therefore useless as allies. There's also a lovely sequence where Megan and her best friend are discussing killing… in such a way that the best friend's mother, one of the most sympathetic of the adults, clearly thinks they're talking about sex.

This is basically a high school film with assassins, not an assassin film with high school; and if you've seen more of those 1990s comedies than I have, you might well recognise more of the borrowings. But there's a sense of enjoyment here that's all too rare in film-making, even (especially?) in comedies; the characters are allowed to be consistent, the performances are all solid, and the plot flows with reasonable logic, even if there are rather a lot of implausibilities hiding under the surface.

Recommended by MaryAnn Johanson.

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